by Jessie L. Embry


Scholars disagree on whether Mormons, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), can rightly be considered an ethnic group. Using survey results, sociologist Armand Mauss shows that Mormons are typical Americans. Canadian anthropologist Keith Parry, however, contends that Mormons have a distinctive lifestyle and language that set them apart from mainstream America. Much of the Mormon identity comes from its history. Members accept the Book of Mormon as a religious history of a people who saw the United States as a land of promise where Christ's church could be restored before His second coming. As historian Dean May explains, "The Mormons have been influenced subsequently by ritual tales of privation, wandering, and delivery under God's hand, precisely as the Jews have been influenced by their stories of the Exodus. A significant consequence of this tradition has been the development of an enduring sense of territoriality that has given a distinctive cast to Mormon group consciousness. It differentiates the Mormons from members of other sects and lends support to the judgment of [Catholic] sociologist Thomas F. O'Dea that the Mormons 'represent the clearest example to be found in our national history of the evolution of a native and indigenously developed ethnic minority "' ( The Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups, 1980).

The Mormon church has grown to be more than an American religious denomination. Its 8,000,000-person membership in 1991 nearly covered the world and only half (4,336,000) lived in the United States. Of the one million converts in 1988 and 1989, 60 percent of them were from Mexico and Central and South America. Still, Utah is 77 percent Mormon, but only about one-eighth of the church members (1,363,000) live there.


The founder of the Mormon church in the United States, Joseph Smith, Jr., was the third son of a New England farming family. When he was a teenager, he attended a religious revival where his family lived in upstate New York. Confused by the different religions, Smith prayed for direction in 1820 and over the next few years recorded several personal revelations. He organized his first church on April 6, 1830. Members accepted him as a prophet who could speak the will of the Lord. As the church grew and developed, he received additional revelations that the Mormons view as scripture; these teachings are recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants.

From his New York base, Smith sent his followers out to seek converts; the majority of growth during this period occurred in Ohio. One of the first groups went to share the Book of Mormon with the Native Americans. When there were more Mormons in Ohio than in New York, Smith received a revelation that the church should move west. The first group arrived in Kirtland, Ohio, a few miles east of Cleveland, early in 1831. For the next seven years, Kirtland served as the church headquarters, and the Latter-day Saints built their first temple there.

But Smith made it clear that Kirtland was only a temporary home. In time, he predicted, God would ask Mormons to establish "Zion," a "New Jerusalem" to prepare for the millennium—the return of the Savior who would usher in a 1,000-year reign of peace. During the summer of 1831 Smith declared that this Zion would be established in Jackson County, Missouri. So Mormons started to gather there. However, tension arose between the Mormons, who opposed slavery, and slaveholding immigrants from Tennessee and Kentucky. The Mormons' claims that the territory was their promised land, their voting together as a bloc, and their communal living posed a threat to the Missourians' lifestyle, and the Mormons were eventually forced from the state.

The Mormons moved to Illinois and settled on undeveloped land along the Mississippi River known as Commerce. They renamed the area Nauvoo and started building a city. The Mormons received a liberal charter from the state that allowed them to have their own militia and courts. From here Smith continued to send out missionaries. Those sent to England were very successful, and soon immigrants from there as well as Canada and other areas of the United States arrived and helped establish what became the second largest city in Illinois. The Saints again started to build a temple. Smith continued to receive revelations.

One of Smith's revelations, plural marriage, caused special problems for the Mormons. Historians do not know when Smith received this revelation; there is some evidence that he married his first plural wife, Fanny Alger, in 1831. He did not write down the revelation until 1843, when he attempted to convince his first wife, Emma Hales Smith, of the principle. Although Smith and some of his closest followers practiced polygamy in Nauvoo, the church did not publicly announce the doctrine until 1852, after the Mormons moved to Utah. Some Mormons who knew of the doctrine opposed the practice and in June 1844 published a newspaper expressing their views of Smith as a fallen prophet. Using the powers granted by Nauvoo's charter, Smith destroyed not only the newspaper but also the press. The city courts released him, but the state arrested him for treason. As Smith, his brother Hyrum, and other church leaders were held in jail awaiting trial, a mob broke into the jail and killed Joseph and Hyrum Smith on June 27, 1844.

Following the death of their leader, Brigham Young (1801-1877), the president of the Council of Twelve Apostles, gained the trust of most of Smith's followers. Some Mormons reported that when Young spoke to them he sounded like Smith. These people saw this as a heavenly manifestation that Young was to be the next leader. Eventually, he became church president. Young led the work to complete the temple in Nauvoo and continued to give the members the ordinances he learned from Smith.

Problems between the Mormons and the local residents continued, and by February 1846, the Mormons began to leave Illinois, heading first for Nebraska and then to Salt Lake Valley. Isolated from the rest of the nation, Brigham Young and the Mormons set out to establish "Zion in the tops of the mountains," following Smith's visions. He planned Salt Lake City and other communities using Smith's Plat of Zion, a grid system. He encouraged the Mormons to be self-sufficient and created an independent commonwealth. He sent settlers to southern Utah, where they attempted to raise cotton and manufacture iron so they would not have to

Many settlers made their way to Utah by wagon train in search of an uninhabited land to start their own way of life.
Many settlers made their way to Utah by wagon train in search of an uninhabited land to start their own way of life.
depend on outsiders for these goods. He asked communities to live the "United Order," wherein people shared resources. Communities had varying success for several years, but eventually most communal attempts failed because most Mormons supported the American ideal of free enterprise. Eventually the church adopted free-enterprise policies. The Mormons completed the first temple in the area in St. George, Utah, in 1877. The Salt Lake Temple, which has become a symbol of Mormonism, took 40 years—from ground breaking to dedication—to complete. It was dedicated on April 6, 1893.

Young also announced for the first time publicly that the church endorsed plural marriage. In 1852 Apostle Orson Pratt delivered a discourse on the virtues of plural marriage. While church members now knew the church sanctioned polygamy, most of the Latter-day Saints did not practice it. The practice of polygamy varied by community, apparently based on how strongly local leaders encouraged it. Current research suggests that around 20 percent of the Mormons belonged to plural families.

Because of the Mormons' practice of polygamy and their political and economical isolation, many Americans questioned their loyalty to the nation. In 1857 the U.S. government sent an army to Utah with a federal appointee, Alfred Cumming of Georgia, to replace Brigham Young as governor of the territory. Although the groups resolved the problem peacefully and Cumming took office, the Mormons still contended with the U.S. government. In 1862 Congress passed the Morrill Act, the first legislation against polygamy, and continued to strengthen those laws for the next 25 years. The Edmunds Act (1882) was a series of amendments that strengthened the Morrill Act. It made cohabitation illegal; federal officials only had to prove that husband and wives were living together and not that multiple marriages had been performed for the law to have been broken. Polygamists were disenfranchised and could not hold political office. When the Edmunds Act did not control polygamy, Congress passed the Edmund-Tucker Act (1887), which abolished women's suffrage, required plural wives to testify against their husbands, and allowed the federal government to acquire all church property. The government began plans to confiscate the property, including the temples, in 1890. Church President Wilford Woodruff then issued a "Manifesto" stating that the church would no longer practice polygamy. In 1904 church President Joseph F. Smith presented a second manifesto that disciplined those who continued to practice polygamy or perform plural marriages.


As Mormons arrived in Utah's Great Basin, Brigham Young sent them throughout the West. Although some colonies were short lived, Mormon communities extended from southern Idaho to San Bernardino, California. During the years when the federal government arrested polygamists, Mormons also moved into northern Mexico and southern Alberta, Canada. Young and the presidents who followed him also sent missionaries throughout the United States and northern Europe. The church encouraged the new converts to "gather to Zion." Church-sponsored ships carried emigrants across the Atlantic. Once in the United States, converts traveled by rail as far as possible and then continued by wagon. Some groups who could not afford wagons pulled two-wheeled handcarts. The church established an endowment, the Perpetual Emigrating Fund, to help the new arrivals.

The church encouraged the newcomers to assimilate as quickly as possible. They learned English and the Mormon way of life. Brigham Young proposed an alphabet that spelled English phonetically. Although it was never adopted, the alphabet demonstrated the church's attempt to assimilate newcomers. European immigrants were allowed at first to attend congregations speaking their native languages but were encouraged also to attend the congregation in which they lived, which usually spoke English. In 1903, when a disagreement developed over the celebration of a Swedish holiday, the First Presidency emphasized, "The counsel of the church to all Saints of foreign birth who come here is that they should learn to speak English when possible, adopt the manners and customs of the American people, fit themselves to become good and loyal citizens of this country, and by their good works show that they are true and faithful Latter-day Saints."

Additional factors worked for assimilation in Mormon society; those already in Utah understood the desire of the newcomers to be in Zion and felt a religious obligation to accept and love their brothers and sisters in the gospel. With all groups working together, European immigrants often married out of their cultural groups. So while Salt Lake City's foreign-born population during the 1880s ran as high as 80 percent, there were very few conflicts. Mormon immigrants assimilated into the mainstream of Mormonism's unique culture in one generation.

Throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Mormons remained concentrated in the inter-mountain west. The agricultural and mining depression of the 1920s and the nationwide depression of the 1930s forced some Mormons to leave the area looking for employment. During World War II, Utah's population increased as the government developed military bases and supported wartime industries. In the 1990s, while Mormons can be found throughout the United States, there is still a high concentration in the inter-mountain west.


During the nineteenth century, most Americans saw the Mormon church as an eccentric religion that practiced polygamy, voted as a bloc, and lived together. Following the issuing of the Manifesto, though, Mormons not only abandoned polygamy but also gave up many of their unique economic and political practices. In order for Utah to become a state, the federal government required the church to dissolve its political arm, the People's Party. Most Mormons became Republicans and Democrats like the rest of the nation. The church gave up its communal and cooperative efforts and embraced the capitalist economy.

As time passed Mormonism became, as historian Jan Shipps described, "the Reader's Digest church" because members seemed to fit the American ideal. While there are still some misgivings about the church's claims to be the only true church, most Americans now see Mormons as law abiding, peaceful people who embrace all aspects of American life. This image improved in 1978 when the church abandoned its policy that blacks could not hold its lay priesthood.


One major problem facing the Mormon church is its growing international membership, both worldwide and in American ethnic communities. Church leaders face the dilemma of separating gospel values from the American secular traditions that they have interwoven into Mormon culture. Before the priesthood revelation, there was an informal rule in many missions that they should not recruit blacks. As a result, only a limited number of African Americans joined. After 1978, missionaries actively ministered among blacks, and increasing numbers of African Americans are joining the religion. Hispanic Americans and Asian Americans are also becoming members. Polynesian Americans who joined the church in the islands are immigrating to the United States and bringing extended family members. Not all of them are Mormons, but some join after they have arrived. The church has also continued its efforts, although on a lesser scale, to convert Native Americans.

While the northern European immigrants assimilated in one generation, these new members maintain their language and much of their cultural identity. The Mormon church has tried various approaches to help these members, including establishing separate congregations, integrating them into existing congregations without translation support, and facilitating partial integration—allowing them to "fuse" their culture with the Mormon lifestyle. In the 1960s, for example, church President Spencer W. Kimball (1895-1985) actively organized Indian congregations (generally called Lamanite branches), and congregations of other ethnic groups, including a Chinese branch and a German-speaking ward in Salt Lake City, were formed. In the early 1970s, church leaders again questioned the utility of sponsoring separate branches and urged the integration of ethnic members into the church. However, before the end of the decade, a Basic Unit plan encouraged ethnic branches again. In practice the church's policy has vacillated because neither ethnic branches nor integrated wards have met the needs of all church members. Language and cultural barriers often weaken the ties of religion. Questions about how to resolve these issues still face the Mormon leadership.

In addition, church leaders uphold family values and gender roles that some Americans question. Many see the Mormon church as a conservative voice similar to the South's Bible Belt, and even some Mormons question these conservative stands. In 1993 and 1994 the church excommunicated intellectuals who questioned some basic tenets such as not ordaining women to the priesthood, the historicity of the Book of Mormon, and the role of church leaders.

Family and Community Dynamics

Mormons believe that through marriages performed in the temple, families are sealed for eternity. While most American Mormon families live with just the nuclear family, they value the extended family, living and dead. They feel that the temple "saving ordinances" such as baptism, a special "endowment" session, and marriages are also essential for family members who have died. Since these ordinances can only be performed on earth, living Mormons perform them as proxies for deceased relatives. To facilitate this, church leaders encourage Mormons to research their genealogies and collect the names of their deceased relatives.

The LDS church has emphasized family worship, including family scripture reading and weekly family meetings (now called family home evenings) for decades. The practice of family gatherings started in the Granite Stake in the Salt Lake Valley in 1909. Church leaders instructed families to set aside time to learn the gospel, participate in activities, sing songs, read the scriptures together, play games, and enjoy refreshments. Six years later in 1915, the First Presidency of the church announced its official endorsement of the church program. They asked "presidents of stakes and bishops throughout the church [to] set aside one evening each month for a "Home Evening" where "fathers and mothers may gather their boys and girls about them in the home and teach them the word of the Lord." The church formalized the program in 1965 as the "family home evening" program. General church leaders encouraged local leaders to set aside Monday for the weekly meeting, prohibited ward or stake meetings that night, and provided lesson and activity manuals to assist families in their time together.

Mormons also encourage daily family prayer. In a survey of Utah adults by sociologist Stan Albrecht, 42 percent of lifetime Mormons reported having "daily" family prayer, with another 27 percent specifying "often." The comparable figures for converts were 45 percent and 23 percent respectively. While the number of those answering "never" or "only on special occasions" were higher (31 percent for lifetime members and 32 percent for converts), Utah Mormons prayed as families more often than Utah Catholics and Protestants, who collectively reported that 16 percent had daily family prayer, 13 percent less frequently, and 71 percent "never" or "only for special occasions."

Church leaders encourage Mormons to be self-sufficient. Since 1930, the church has operated its own welfare system to help members in need. Leaders ask members to fast once a month and donate the money they would have spent on those meals to help the needy. However, leaders also encourage members to use their own resources and seek their extended families' assistance before coming to the church for aid. To help in times of emergency, leaders ask members to maintain a year's supply of food and other necessities. During the 1930s, the church claimed that it could support its own members, but studies showed that members depended on the federal programs to a greater extent than other Americans. Church members continue to use federal and church programs, but the goal of self-reliance endures.

Church policy discourages teenagers from dating until they are 16 years old. Leaders also encourage no serious dating until after young men serve a two-year full-time mission when they are 19. Leaders stress that young people should marry other Mormons within their own racial group. The 1978 issue of the Church News that announced the change in policy toward blacks holding the priesthood included an article restating that the church still discouraged interracial marriages. It pointed out that marriage is always difficult and even more so when the partners come from different backgrounds. While the topic is not discussed as much in the general church, single Mormons from ethnic groups are frequently confused by the church's counsel to marry within the church and to marry someone from their ethnic groups when they do not find potential marriage partners who are Mormons and who belong to their cultural backgrounds.

The church teaches that sexual intercourse outside marriage is a sin. As a result, Mormon women marry at slightly younger ages than other Americans, while men marry at about the same age as the national average. Most Mormons marry rather than cohabit. As divorce has become more acceptable in the United States, more Mormons are separating. Utah has a higher divorce rate than the national average. Some studies show Mormons are more likely to separate in the first five years and less likely to divorce after five years of marriage.

Mormons believe all people existed as spirits before they were born and that to progress they needed to come to this earth to receive a body and to be tested. Many believe that the spirits on the other side need to be provided bodies. For that reason, the church discourages birth control and suggests that Mormons have large families; Latter-day Saints have families larger than the U.S. average. Mormon church leaders also speak against abortion. They view ending a pregnancy as "one of the most... sinful practices of this day." The only allowable exceptions are where "incest or rape was involved, or where competent medical authorities certify that the life of the mother is in jeopardy, or that a severely defective fetus cannot survive birth."

Mormons value children and provide training for them in the home and in the church. Traditional Mormon gender roles have changed along with overall American values as society has evolved in the twentieth century. But there are still differences in the training of boys and girls. Boys receive the priesthood when they are 12 years old and progress through priesthood offices. Church leaders ask all young men to serve a two-year mission when they are 19 years old. They receive the temple endowment before leaving on their missions. Girls, however, do not have the same advancement. They are allowed but not encouraged to go on missions, and they do not go until they are 21. Young women who serve missions receive the temple ordinances before they leave. Most women attend the temple for the first time just before their marriages. In marriage, a woman is sealed to her husband, and the church teaches that the man, the priesthood holder, is the head of the home; leaders discourage women from working outside the home. While many women work, studies show that women in Utah are more likely to work part time and many Mormon Utah women stay at home.

Despite rather conservative family status for women, however, Utah was the second state (after Wyoming) to give women the right to vote. Although Congress took suffrage away with the Edmunds-Tucker Act, some women continued to campaign for suffrage and were active in the national suffrage movements. The Utah State Constitution gave women back the vote in 1896. Some women, especially those involved in suffrage, became active in political parties. Historically Mormon women have been involved in community health, social welfare, and adoption programs; the best known of these is the Relief Society.


Mormons place a high value on education. Joseph Smith established a School of the Prophets and stressed the importance of learning, and Mormon scripture encourages members to "seek learning even by study and also by faith." Once the Mormons arrived in Utah, they established and sponsored the first schools on all levels in the state. Formal statehood brought public education, and gradually the church closed or transferred to the state most of its high schools (or academies). Weber State University in Ogden, Utah; Snow College in Ephraim, Utah; and Dixie College in St. George, Utah, are examples of state-sponsored institutions that were first established as Mormon academies. The church did not abandon all of its educational facilities, however. It still sponsors Brigham Young University, a four-year college with a large campus in Provo, Utah, as well as a smaller campus in Laie, Hawaii. It also operates a two-year junior college in Rexburg, Idaho, LDS Business College in Salt Lake City, and high schools and smaller colleges throughout the world in areas with limited public education.

These Mormon women are tacking a quilt out in the yard.
These Mormon women are tacking a quilt out in the yard.

With the closing of its academies, the church feared the loss of religious instruction. To provide the spiritual training other than that provided at Sunday activities, the church established seminaries at high schools and institutes at universities. The first seminary was established at Granite High School in Salt Lake City in 1912; the first institute was created at the University of Idaho in Moscow in 1926.

The Mormons' emphasis on education has led to an educated Mormon populace in the United States. In 1984 sociologists Stan L. Albrecht and Tim B. Heaton found that over half Mormon men (53.5 percent) had some post high school education as compared to 36.7 percent of American men; 44.3 percent of Mormon women had similar training, contrasting with only 27.7 percent of American women overall.


For the most part, American Mormons observe only the national holidays that other Americans celebrate. The exception is July 24, Pioneer Day, in honor of the day that Brigham Young entered the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. This date is a state holiday in Utah, and residents celebrate with parades and fireworks. With the emphasis Mormons place on their history, members throughout the United States celebrate Pioneer Day on a smaller scale.


Mormons consider the Word of Wisdom, a revelation received by Joseph Smith, to be a commandment from God. According to Mormon tradition, in 1833 Emma Smith questioned male church leaders using chewing tobacco and spitting in her home. As a result, Joseph Smith asked the Lord for guidance and received Section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants. It cautioned against "wine and strong drinks," tobacco, and "hot drinks." It also said meat should be "used sparingly" and urged the use of grains, especially "wheat for man," and herbs. When the revelation was first received, the church considered it only advice; violation did not restrict church membership. During the 1890s, though, church leaders started emphasizing the Word of Wisdom more. They led the prohibition fight in Utah and discouraged the use of alcoholic drinks. In 1921 church president Heber J. Grant made obeying the Word of Wisdom a requirement to enter the temple. The church interpreted the revelation to forbid coffee, tea, tobacco, and alcohol, but it does not stress other elements of the teaching, including guidelines about the use of meat and grains.

Strict adherence to the Word of Wisdom has led to greater health among Mormons. Studies have found that Mormons in Utah have fewer cases of diseases, especially cancers, and suggest this may be because they do not use tobacco or alcohol. One study declared that Mormons showed that one-third of the cancers in the United States could be prevented by avoiding these substances. Mormons also helped in cancer research through their high birth rate and the keeping of genealogical records. University of Utah professors have encoded this information and identified high-risk cancer patients. In addition, information provided by the Mormons helped lead to the identification of a gene that frequently occurs in colon cancer patients.

Nineteenth-century Mormon health practices and problems were similar to those of other Americans at the time. Mormons suffered a high rate of infant morality and death from infectious diseases. Their initial mistrust of the medical profession was also common. Some early Mormons believed in herbal treatments. Many practiced faith healing. Leaders encouraged members to depend more on the power of God than on doctors. In the church's early days, men and women gave blessings as a way of healing. Usually women blessed other women at the time of childbirth. Now the church only authorizes men holding the priesthood to give blessings.

Mormon health practices have changed over the years. Some modifications developed in response to changes in American views. After the Mormons moved to Utah, Brigham Young encouraged members to go to doctors for medical treatment. His suggestion slightly preceded the general American shift to greater support of the medical profession. Young asked second-generation Mormons to return to the East to study medicine, and men and women responded. While leaders still stressed faith healing, they also encouraged members to seek the assistance of secular medicine.

Around the turn of the century, Mormons participated in public health programs that were popular throughout the United States. Church leaders encouraged voluntary vaccination programs and supported quarantines. The women's organization, the Relief Society, sponsored maternal and child health programs. It also held milk clinics and organized "Swat the Fly" campaigns. The women worked closely with the state government to implement the services Congress provided through the 1920s Sheppherd-Towner Act. Under this law, the stake Relief Society in Cottonwood opened a maternity hospital and other church groups provided layettes and promoted pregnancy and well-baby care.

The Mormon church also sponsored hospitals in Utah to provide assistance to the sick. The Relief Society started the Deseret Hospital in 1882. When that hospital closed 10 years later, members worked to raise money for the W. H. Grover Latter-day Saint Hospital that opened in 1905. The Mormon church owned and operated hospitals in Utah and Idaho until the 1980s, when the leaders turned these hospitals over to a newly created private institution, the Intermountain Health Corporation.

By the end of the twentieth century, Mormons depended as much on doctors as on other members. While blessings at the time of illness continue, leaders recommend that members seek medical advice. Physician and historian Lester Bush concludes, "With regard to most aspects of medical practice, Mormons are indeed no longer a `peculiar people "' ( Health and Medicine Among the Mormons: Science, Sense, and Scripture, 1993). There are some minor differences though. Early in the century the Utah state legislature voted against compulsory vaccinations. Later that decision was reversed, but for years Utah had higher cases of smallpox than the rest of the nation because vaccinations were not required. Utah has also resisted water fluoridation. In 1972 the First Presidency asked members to study the issue and make their own decision, but they did not express support. As a result, much of Utah's water is not fluoridated, and children have more cavities.


Though Mormons are found throughout the world, the church is thoroughly American. That is true especially of its leadership. While the church has appointed local leaders that represent its worldwide membership, the most influential, the First Presidency and the Council of Twelve, are all white American males. When a president dies, the senior member of the Council of Twelve replaces him, so future church leaders will come from this group. The two Quorums of Seventies are also General Authorities in the church. The First Quorum is appointed for life and in 1993 included 35 men. Only eight of its members are not from the United States. The Second Quorum is appointed for a five-year term. Of 43 men in 1993, only 14 are not Americans. Since nearly all the General Authorities are Americans, the body tends to represent that perspective.

Mormons attend geographically structured congregations known as wards. In Utah a ward might include only a few blocks; in other areas, wards might encompass an entire middle-sized or metropolitan city. In Utah boundaries frequently split neighborhoods, and there is very little contact outside assigned wards. Wards support religious and social life by sponsoring athletic events, parties, and other activities for all age groups. Five to six wards form a unit known as a stake, which is similar to a diocese.

The importance of "going to church" has changed for Mormons over time. Historian Jan Shipps described the changes in Mormon religious practice: "Hypothetical Saints [travelling to the nineteenth century] ... in a time machine would have been astonished to find so few Saints at sacrament meeting because the twentieth century sacrament meeting is a visible worship sign, whereas in the pioneer era more expressive worship signs were irrigation canals or neatly built or nicely decorated houses or good crops of sugar beets. More significant, living in the nineteenth century was the sign of citizenship in God's elect nation" ( Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition, 1985). As the Mormons gave up such distinctive practices as polygamy and the United Orders, the responsibility of "boundary maintenance" shifted from the church to the individual. According to Shipps, "The LDS dietary, behavior, and dress codes" are now important boundary markers, while correspondingly, "worship activity ... seems almost mandatory."

The importance of attending worship services is reflected in contemporary Mormon church statistics. For example, a 1980-1981 study shows that 68 percent of lifetime Mormons in Utah attend church on a weekly basis. Converts are even more devout: 74 percent attend weekly. Sociologist Armand Mauss' study of general U.S. surveys found that 58 percent of Mormons go to church weekly compared to only 29 percent of other Americans. On Sundays Mormons attend a three-hour block of meetings that includes a general worship service—known as the sacrament meeting—for everyone. Adults and teenagers attend Sunday School classes. Men and women then split; women attend Relief Society and men attend priesthood meeting. Teenage girls attend Young Women, and teenage boys attend priesthood classes. Children between the ages of three and twelve go to Primary. A nursery serves those between eighteen months and three years of age. Before 1981, Mormons scattered meetings throughout the week. Partly because of the gasoline shortage of the late 1970s, these meetings were consolidated into today's Sunday block. The church leaders hoped this would not only cut down travel time, but allow families more time to be together.

Mormons also develop a sense of community by working together in the wards. The only paid full-time clergy in the church are the General Authorities. Ward and stake leaders accept positions to serve as bishop (similar to a pastor or priest), stake president (similar to a bishop in the Catholic church), and staff for other church organizations. Catholic sociologist Thomas F. O'Dea in his extensive study of the Mormons observed that the church's lay ministry means "the church has provided a job for everyone to do and, perhaps more important, has provided a formal context in which it is to be done. The result is a wide distribution of activity, responsibility, and prestige" ( The Mormons, 1957). O'Dea explained lay structure has historical roots. Mormonism came into being "when lay responsibility in church government was widespread and developed in circumstances that demanded lay participation for the survival of the group and the carrying-out of the program.... If western conditions caused older and established churches to make use of laymen, a new and struggling religious movement had all the more reason to do so, and no inhibiting traditions." Mormonism's already expansive definition of priesthood continued to broaden, becoming universal for men after 1978.


Early Mormon meeting houses and temples were works of art. The architecture was often similar to Gothic chapels and represented the feeling that the Saints were giving the best to the Lord. The Salt Lake Temple, often seen as the symbol of Mormonism, is a classic example; but the church has had a mixed record of preserving these historic treasures. In the late 1960s local residents along with state citizens fought to prevent the church from tearing down the Heber City, Utah, tabernacle that had served as a meeting place for the Wasatch Stake. Just a few years later similar groups were unable to preserve the Coalville, Utah, tabernacle. In the late 1970s the church preserved the outside of the Logan Temple but gutted the interior. It maintained the original murals in the Salt Lake and Manti temples. In 1994 the church announced plans to convert the tabernacle in Vernal, Utah, into a temple.

Mormon temples provide a special worship atmosphere for members; meeting houses are more practical. They include a chapel for worship, a cultural hall for sports and theater, classrooms, a kitchen, and a library. In the early days the buildings were still decorative; now there is more emphasis on utilitarianism. The church provides standard architectural plans that can be adapted for individual needs. New temples are built to serve functional needs. A good contrast that shows the changes is to compare the Salt Lake Temple with its granite towers and symbolism with the simple concrete design of the Provo, Utah, and Ogden, Utah, temples.

Employment and Economic Traditions

Mormons have a variety of occupations. Sociologist Wade Dewey Roof and theologian William McKinney examined religious "streams" in the "circulation of the saints." The "upward movement" from one social and economic class to another is one of these streams. They concluded that the Mormon church moved from the bottom of the lowest scale in the 1940s, based on education, family income, occupational prestige, and perceived social class, to the highest in the middle category by the 1980s.

Politics and Government

Since the breakup of the People's Party, the Mormon church leaders claim to speak out only on political issues that they consider to be of moral concern. In 1968 the church opposed the sale of liquor by the drink, supported Sunday closing laws, and favored right-to-work laws. The Mormon church also took a stand opposing the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in the 1970s. While LDS women were split, the church's Relief Society came out against the amendment and in October 1976 a First Presidency statement opposed the ERA. The church's stand influenced the vote in Utah, Florida, Virginia, and Illinois and affected states such as Idaho that attempted to reverse their ratification of the amendment.

Besides opposing the ERA, Mormons attended state activities for the International Women's Year. Mormons tended to vote as a bloc against what they saw as liberal proposals. The Mormon church also made national news when an outspoken supporter of the ERA, Sonia Johnson, was excommunicated from the Mormon church. The Mormon Women's Forum, a group of Mormon feminists seeking to reform the church, looks at what its members see as the suppressive influence of the church on Mormon women and examines such issues as the ordination of women to the priesthood.

The First Presidency also spoke out against the location of the MX missile system in Utah and Nevada in 1981. The church issued a statement declaring, "Our fathers came to this western area to establish a base from which to carry the gospel of peace to the peoples of the earth." It continued, "It is ironic, and a denial of the very essentials of that gospel, that in this same general area there should be a mammoth weapons system potentially capable of destroying much of civilization." The federal government then suggested moving the project to Wyoming and later abandoned the project altogether.

The Mormon church also spoke out on other issues. Leaders came out strongly against abortion. Utah passed one of the most pro-life legislation packages in the United States in 1991. In 1992 the LDS church opposed a pari-mutuel betting proposal in the state of Utah; several general authorities mentioned this subject in the October General Conference just before the election. The measure was defeated.

Other than speaking out on issues and encouraging members to vote and be involved in the political process, Mormon leaders do not officially support any political party. Almost half of the American Mormon population are Republicans. The rest are independents, Democrats, and small political party members. Mormons tend to be conservative no matter which political party they belong to.


One of Joseph Smith's Articles of Faith, a 13-statement creed of belief, says that Mormons believe in being "subject" to governments and "honoring" the laws of the land. Church leaders asked members to participate in the armed forces of their countries, even when that meant that Mormons fought against each other. During World War II and the Korean and Vietnamese conflicts, Mormon leaders restricted the missionary efforts and discouraged draft dodgers and conscientious objectors. Mormons have changed the way that they view wars. In the early church, Latter-day Saints looked for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. They viewed the Civil War as the beginning of the "wars and rumors of wars" that were prophesied would proceed the millennium. Mormons saw the Spanish American War that came immediately after Utah received statehood as a chance to prove their loyalty to America. Like other Americans, Mormons saw World War I as a "just war" to end all wars. World War II was seen as a necessary battle to save democracy and remove dictators.

Individual and Group Contributions


Laurel Thatcher Ulrich won the Pultizer Prize for nonfiction for her book A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812. Ulrich is a professor of history at the University of New Hampshire. Mormons also publish scholarly journals that deal with various aspects of LDS life. The first journal addressed to the intellectual community was Brigham Young University Studies (1959). In 1966 scholars formed Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, an independent voice, despite disapproval from many in the church's hierarchy. Other autonomous periodicals followed including the Journal of Mormon History (1974), Exponent II (1974), and Sunstone (1975). The Mormon History Association publishes the Journal of Mormon History. The rest are published by small groups devoted to the need for an independent organ for Mormon scholars.


President Spencer W. Kimball (1895-1985) encouraged Mormons to develop an art form of their own. Mormons have attempted to do this throughout the church's history. They formed musical groups, especially bands, during the nineteenth century. They also participated in choral singing on a local and church-wide basis. Several Mormon regional choirs are very successful. The best-known choir is the Mormon Tabernacle Choir that presents a weekly program on CBS Radio and Television. Equally well-known is the Osmond family, which has had many different successful music groups, whether it was the Osmond Brothers, or brother and sister act Donny and Marie. Mormons have also encouraged plays and theatrical productions. In 1861 the church built the Salt Lake Theater that was the center of drama in the Rocky Mountain West for years. Dramas have continued on a local and churchwide basis over the years. The church also sponsors pageants depicting the Mormon past at historic sites throughout the United States. The most noted is the Hill Cumorah Pageant near Palmyra, New York, which enacts the history of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith's early life.

Mormons have used motion pictures as missionary and teaching tools. One of the first was Man's Search for Happiness , produced for the 1967 World's Fair in New York City. Since then, the church has produced television specials and other motion pictures. In 1993, for example, the church started showing Legacy, a dramatic presentation of early Mormon history, in the restored Hotel Utah, now known as the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.

Mormon artists have used their talents to express church messages. During the 1880s and 1890s, Mormon painters went as missionaries to Paris to learn the impressionist art. They returned to paint murals for the Salt Lake Temple. Other Mormon painters contributed stained glass windows and other paintings to chapels. As the church has grown worldwide, artists from many countries have adapted their native art forms to portray Mormon themes. The church-owned Museum of Church History and Art sponsors art competitions to help collect and display the art produced from around the world. Brigham Young University has a large collection of painting and sculpture in its Museum of Art.


Amy Brown Lyman (1872-1959) served on the Relief Society general board and as president of that organization from 1940 to 1944. Lyman was active in church and state welfare programs. James O. Mason (1930– ) worked in the LDS church welfare services and then in the Utah Department of Health. In 1989 he was appointed head of the U.S. Public Health Service. He retired from the federal government in 1992 and was called to be a member of the Second Quorum of Seventy in the LDS church. Eliza R. Snow (1804-1887) served as secretary of the Relief Society in Nauvoo, Illinois, and president in Utah. Snow wrote poems; some are LDS hymns. She was a plural wife of Joseph Smith, and after Smith's death, she became a plural wife of Brigham Young. Emmaline Blanche Wells (1828-1921) was editor of the Women's Exponent for nearly four decades and general president of the Relief Society for over a decade. Active in women's suffrage, she was a friend of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.


Since the early church, Mormons have published newspapers and magazines. Some important U.S. publications include the Evening and Morning Star (Independence, Missouri, 1832-1833; Kirtland, Ohio, 1833-1834), the Times and Seasons (Nauvoo, Illinois, 1839-1946); and the Frontier Guardian (Kanesville, Iowa, 1849-1852). Once in Utah the Mormons started a newspaper, the Desert News (1850-) that is ongoing. Women established a quasi-Mormon women's paper, the Woman's Exponent (1872-1914). It was replaced by an official magazine, the Relief Society Magazine (1914-1970). The church also sponsored a Sunday School magazine, the Juvenile Instructor, a young women's magazine, and the Children's Friend. The general church magazine was the Improvement Era (1897-1970). In 1970 the church started three new magazines, the Ensign for adults, the New Era for teenagers, and the Friend for children.


Mormons have also written novels, stories, and poems about the LDS experience. Vardis Fisher (1895-1968) wrote from a Mormon background. Others with Latter-day Saint backgrounds who wrote about Mormon themes include Samuel Taylor (1906– ), Virginia Sorsensen (1912-1992), and Maurine Whipple (1904-1993). Another contemporary Mormon author is Levi Peterson (1933– ), who writes novels ( Backslider ) and short stories ( Canyons of Grace ). Mormon authors formed the Association of Mormon Letters to promote literary study.


Mormons have also been involved in technological inventions, although most of these innovations have had little to do with their Mormon past. One exception is the development of irrigation. The community-minded Mormons worked out a system to share water in the arid west. They developed irrigation companies and ways to share the limited water resources. Later other Mormons improved these methods and shared them throughout the United States and the world. John A. Widstoe (1872-1952) was among the first Mormons who went east in the 1890s to study science at secular universities. Widstoe directed the Utah Agricultural Experiment Station and was a professor of chemistry at the Utah State Agricultural College. He developed dry farming and irrigation methods. Henry Eyring (1901-1981), a chemist, developed the absolute rate theory of chemical reactions and received the National Medal of Science. He served as president of several leading scientific organizations. Harvey Fletcher (1884-1981), a physicist, worked for Bell Labs and helped develop stereo-phonic reproduction. James Chipman Fletcher (1919-1992) was the director of NASA from 1971 to 1977. He was asked to return to that position after the Challenger disaster and remained from 1986 to 1989.


Terrell H. Bell (1921– ) was the secretary of education in the early 1980s under President Ronald Reagan. Ezra Taft Benson (1899-1994) served as president of the LDS church. Benson also served as secretary of agriculture under President Dwight D. Eisenhower and was active in farm organizations. David M. Kennedy (1925– ), a banker, was the secretary of the treasury under president Richard Nixon from 1969-1971, an ambassador-at-large from 1971-1973, and the ambassador to NATO from 1972-1973. He later became an ambassador-at-large for the LDS church. Rex Lee (1935-) was U.S. solicitor general. In 1989 he has became president of Brigham Young University. George Romney (1912– ) was president and general manager of American Motors (1954-1962), governor of the state of Michigan (1963-1967), and a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 1968. Stewart L. Udall (1920-) served as secretary of the interior in the 1960s under president John F. Kennedy.


Many Mormons have achieved fame in athletics. These include professional baseball players such as Dale Murphy, basketball players such as Danny Ainge, football players such as Steve Young, and golfers such as Johnny Miller. Mormons have also excelled in amateur sports, including athletes Henry Marsh, Doug Padilla, Ed Eyestone, and Jay Silvester in track and field.




Monthly publication of the Affirmation/Gay and Lesbian Mormons. Promotes understanding, tolerance, and acceptance of gay men and lesbians as full, equal, and worthy members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and society. Provides a forum for dialogue between members and church leaders and examines the consistency of homosexual behavior and the Gospel. Studies ways of reconciling sexual orientation with traditional Mormon beliefs.

Contact: James Kent, Editor.

Address: P.O. Box 46022, Los Angeles, California 90046.

Telephone: (213) 255-7251.

Church News.

A weekly publication that includes the activities of Mormons worldwide. It is published as an insert in the Mormon-owned Deseret News.

Contact: Dell Van Orden, Editor.

Address: 40 E. South Temple, P.O. Box 30178, Salt Lake City, Utah 84130.

Telephone: (800) 453-3876; or (801) 534-1515.

Fax: (801) 578-3338.

Online: .

Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought.

Quarterly scholarly journal examining the relevance of religion to secular life and expressing Mormon culture.

Contact: Martha Bradley, Co-Editor.

Address: P.O. Box 658, Salt Lake City, Utah 84110-0658.

Telephone: (801) 363-9988.


A monthly magazine published by the Mormon church for its adult English-speaking members. It includes a message from the First Presidency and articles concerning LDS life and members. A section includes "News of the Church."

Contact: Jay M. Todd, Managing Editor.

Address: 50 East North Temple, 23rd Floor, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150.

Telephone: (800) 453-3860; or (801) 240-2950.

Fax: (801) 240-5997.


Exponent II.

Quarterly newspaper for Mormon women.

Contact: Susan L. Paxman, Editor. Address: P.O. Box 37, Arlington, Massachusetts 02174.

Telephone: (617) 862-1928.

Fax: (617) 868-3464.


An LDS church magazine for children. Its stories and articles provide information for youth ages three to 12.

Contact: Vivian Paulsen, Editor.

Address: 50 East North Temple, 23rd Floor, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150.

New Era.

A Mormon publication for teenagers and young adults. Its articles focus on the concerns of young people.

Contact: Richard M. Romney, Editor.

Address: 50 East North Temple, 23rd Floor, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150.

Sunstone: Mormon Experience, Scholarship, Issues, and Art.

Magazine published by Sunstone Foundation, which also sponsors symposiums in the United States. (In 1992 the Mormon church's First Presidency and Council of Twelve issued a statement cautioning against Mormons participating in symposiums, and many felt this referred to Sunstone.)

Contact: Elbert Peck, Editor.

Address: 343 North 300 West, Salt Lake City, Utah, 84103-1215.

Telephone: (801) 355-5926.

Fax: (801) 355-4043.

This People: Exploring LDS Issues and Personalities.

Quarterly magazine for members of the LDS church.

Contact: Jim Bell, Editor.

Address: Utah Alliance Publishing, P.O. Box 50748, Provo, Utah 84605.

Telephone: (801) 375-1700. Fax: (801) 375-1703.


Bonneville LDS Radio Network.

The media corporation owned by the LDS church; provides a 24-hour radio service that is sent by satellite to church members who own satellite receivers. It is also repeated by a few stations across the nation as an FM sideband service.

Contact: Richard Linford.

Address: P.O. Box 1160, Salt Lake City, Utah 84110-1160. Telephone: (801) 575-7505.

Bonneville International also operates radio stations throughout the United States: KIDR-AM (740) in Phoenix, Arizona; KIRO-AM (710) and KWMX-FM (101) in Seattle, Washington; KOITFM (96.5) and KOIT-AM (1260) in San Francisco, California; KZLA-FM (93.9) and KBIG-FM (104.3) in Los Angeles, California; KSL-AM (1160) in Salt Lake City, Utah; KHTC-FM (96.9) and KIDR-AM (740) in Phoenix, Arizona; KMBZAM (980) in Westwood, Kansas; KLDE-FM (94.5) in Houston, Texas; KZPS-FM (92.5) and KAAMAM (1310) in Dallas, Texas; WDBZ-FM (105.1) in New York City; WGMS-AM (103.5) in Washington, D.C.; and WLUP-FM (97.9) and WNND-FM (100.3) in Chicago, Illinois. These are commercial stations. At least one station in each operating area carries the CBS broadcast "Music and the Spoken Word," and some carry one or more sessions of the LDS General Conference.

LDS Public Communications.

Produces a weekly "News of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" and other public affairs programs that are packaged and sent to radio stations.

Contact: Gerry Pond, Producer.

Address: LDS Church Headquarters, 50 East North Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150.


Bonneville International Corporation.

Operates two television stations, KIRO-TV, Channel 7 in Seattle, Washington, and KSL-TV in Salt Lake City, Utah. These operate as commercial stations and do not regularly carry unique Mormon programming. The LDS church Public Communications airs shows on the cable system religious station VISIONS.

Address: LDS Church Headquarters, 50 East North Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150.

Organizations and Associations

Affirmation/Gay and Lesbian Mormons.

Members of the Mormon church; friends, relatives, and interested individuals whose purpose is to promote understanding, tolerance, and acceptance of gay men and lesbians as full, equal, and worthy members of the church and society. Studies ways of reconciling sexual orientation with traditional Mormon beliefs.

Contact: Tianna Owens, Executive Director.

Address: P.O. Box 46022, Los Angeles, California 90046.

Telephone: (213) 255-7251.

Online: .

Mormon History Association.

Promotes the study of the Mormon past. It publishes the Journal of Mormon History, a biannual scholarly publication.

Contact: Craig and Suzanne Foster, Executive Secretaries.

Address: 2470 North 1000 West, Layton, Utah.

Telephone: (801) 773-4620.

Fax: (801) 779-1348.


Mormon Social Science Association.

Encourages the study of Mormon life.

Contact: Lynn Payne, Secretary-Treasurer.

Address: Sociology Department, A 800 SWKT, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah 84602.

Young Women of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (YW).

Founded in 1869. Description: Girls between the ages of 12 and 18. Seeks to strengthen the spiritual life of young women through Christian values and experiences. Reinforces the values of faith, divine nature, individual worth, knowledge, choice and accountability, good works, and integrity. Works to develop leadership attributes in young women through service in the community. Bestows Young Womanhood Medallion for special achievement.

Contact: Margaret D. Nadauld, President.

Address: 76 North Main, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150.

Telephone: (801) 240-2141. Fax: (801) 240-5458.

Museums and Research Centers

Charles Redd Center for Western Studies

Integral unit of Brigham Young University. History, anthropology, economic development, literature, folklore, social development, politics, and other activities relating to western development, including studies on Mormon history.

Contact: Dr. Edward A. Geary, Director.

Address: 5042 Harold B. Lee Library, Provo, Utah 84602.

Telephone: (801) 378-4048.

Fax: (801) 378-6708.


Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Church History.

Integral unit of Brigham Young University. History of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its followers (Mormons).

Contact: Dr. Ronald K. Esplin, Director.

Address: 127 Knight Mangum Building, Provo, Utah 84602.

Telephone: (801) 378-4023.

Fax: (801) 378-4049.


Sources for Additional Study

Alexander, Thomas G. Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saints, 1890-1930. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986.

Allen, James B., and Glen M. Leonard. The Story of the Latter-day Saints, second edition. Salt Lake City: Deseret Books, 1992.

Arrington, Leonard J., and Davis Bitton. The Mormon Experience. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979.

Bush, Lester E. Health and Medicine Among the Mormons: Science, Sense, and Scripture. New York: Crossroads, 1993.

Cornwall, Marie, Tim B. Heaton, and Lawrence A. Young. Contemporary Mormonism: Social Science Perspectives. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994.

Hansen, Klaus J. Mormonism and the American Experience. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981.

Hill, Marvin S. Quest for Refuge: The Mormon Flight from American Pluralism. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989.

Ludlow, Daniel H. Encyclopedia of Mormonism. New York: Macmillan, 1992.

Mauss, Armand L. The Angel and the Beehive: The Mormon Struggle with Assimilation. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994.

Shipps, Jan. Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985.

Also read article about Mormons from Wikipedia

User Contributions:

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Oct 9, 2008 @ 2:14 pm
I am Mormon, and I thought that was an interesting, near completely accurate in depth account on my culture. I agree that this is a cultural group not just a religon. If you note my first sentence without even thinking about it was: "I am Mormon", not 'I am A Mormon'

Thank you for putting time and effort into producing an accurate informational site about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

P.S. President Deiter F. Uchtdorf is German - not American and he is a member of the First Presidency.
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Mar 11, 2011 @ 11:11 am
I agree that this artice was very well done from a neutral standpoint. As a member of the LDS Church it is refreshing and rather uncommon to see an article from an external source done in this manner. Thank you.

@Katie, if you notice at the beginning of the artice, the numbers they have come from 1991 which accounts for why they don't have Elder Uchtdorf
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Jan 3, 2012 @ 6:18 pm
Was there a Mormon religion prior to Joseph Smith?
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Sep 22, 2015 @ 11:11 am
Sylvia, there was not a Mormon religion prior to Joseph Smith only because Mormon is not a religion, but a nickname. Of course, the Mormon name comes from the Book of Mormon. We, as members of the church, sometimes use the Mormon nickname, but church leadership has recommended we call ourselves by the official name of the church: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Like Mormons, another nickname we have is Latter-Day Saints, but we still don't like to be known by any name that removes the name of Jesus Christ from our title because that is who we follow and worship. We don't worship the Book of Mormon, Latter-Day Saints, nor Joseph Smith). These nicknames lead to the idea that Mormons or Latter-Day Saints aren't Christians, which we are.

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